Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Buccaneers’ dedication to the diversity of the coaching staff is a vital part of the Super Bowl 55 race

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Even if that Super Bowl was not contested during a pandemic, if the press conferences ahead of time were the typical series of rugby-style scrimmages and not the ordered Zoom calls, now it’s your turn, the interviews. Buccaneers with reporters covering the game would be different than every two years involving all of the other teams that have reached this stage.

Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong make Tampa the first team in history with African Americans in those three positions to advance to the Super Bowl. More than half of the coaches on Coach Bruce Arians’ staff are minorities. They also have a wife, Lori Locust, who serves as an assistant defensive line coach, and Maral Javadifar helps with the strength and conditioning program.

“I think it means a lot, especially with, like, the current climate in the country,” star wide receiver Chris Godwin told Sporting News. “But I should say at the same time that I’m not surprised. Having been at BA for two years now, I’m not at all surprised that this is the type of staff he’s put together. And it’s so cool that we were able to have this success because a lot of our staff – they’re so talented, they’re so smart and so capable. “

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It was inevitable that the race would be part of the discussion over this Super Bowl given the circumstances in the country – and in the NFL. Almost 22% of the league’s teams had openings for a head coach this offseason, but only the Texans hired an African-American candidate to fill their vacancy.

Eric Bienemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator, interviewed six of the seven available positions and got none. The Bengals have won nine AFC Division championships in 51 years since merger; Marvin Lewis has won four in 16 seasons. But he also didn’t find a job, although he interviewed several teams. With Anthony Lynn dismissed by the Chargers and Texans bringing in David Culley, the NFL still only has three black head coaches.

So many coaches hired over the past three seasons fall into the category of “offensive brains”. So if the teams are going to keep hiring according to what looks to be the next hot trend, maybe the duel between Bienemy and Leftwich will have resonance next January.

“I hope one day it’s not so bad that two African American offensive coordinators are in the Super Bowl,” Leftwich said. “But it still is now.”

There are reasons why this matters, even beyond the fundamental sense of justice for minority candidates. There is an abundance of minority players in the league – nearly 70% – but few can look at their head coaches and see a sense of representation.

Leftwich, Bucs inside linebacker coach Larry Foote and offensive assistant Antwaan Randle-El all played for the Steelers when Arians was the team’s offensive coordinator from 2007-2011. The Arians got to grips with it. with their leadership skills and knowledge of the game over those years. It was also important, however, that they could see themselves having a future in training while playing under Mike Tomlin, who is the most successful African-American coach in league history.

“When he joined our team he was probably between 31 and 32 years old at the time. Coming from a similar background, I started to think, ‘Dude, I could be a coach in this league,’ ”Foote told Sporting News. “He started to put this in my ear over the years, and I kind of started following him a bit. The older I got BA offered me the job, I just took it and followed it.

“We know that over the years this league is lacking in this area. The media are doing a great job, keep pressuring them. And I hope you start to see guys of color having more opportunities. “

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Foote said he was happy to see hires such as Martin Mayhew as general manager of the Washington football team, Brad Holmes in the same position with the Lions and Terry Fontenot with the Falcons.

“I think it’s going to start there. Then more coordinators, ”Foote told SN. “The good offensive coordinators have been quarterbacks. Now the quarterback thing is turned upside down. So when these guys start to retire, you’ll start to see them being coordinators. And you will see the offensive side catch up with the defensive side, in my opinion.

The Arians told reporters on Monday that having to wait so long for his first opportunity to be an NFL head coach made him want to offer opportunities to others who might be overlooked. He was a head coach at Temple in his early 30s, but after joining the NFL in 1989, he waited over two decades for his first chance to be a head coach – and it only developed through interim with the Colts, in 2012 when The Arians were just approaching his 60th birthday because Chuck Pagano fell ill with leukemia.

“I was a winning Super Bowl offensive coordinator and didn’t even get a phone call,” Arians said. “So the lack of opportunities, I think, made me want to give more opportunities to more people.”

Leftwich said the Arians started working on him to envision a coaching future from the start when they were together in Pittsburgh and helped win Super Bowl 43 – which, coincidentally, was the most recent played in the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, where the Chiefs-Bucs game will be played Sunday night. Leftwich was Ben Roethlisberger’s main replacement that season, and again when Pittsburgh returned to the Super Bowl in 2010.

Although his promising playing career has been constantly disrupted by injuries, Leftwich has earned more than $ 27 million in a decade. He was content to work on his golf game for a while after leaving behind those bruises, fractures and surgeries. The Arians never gave in, however, and the Cardinals coach convinced Leftwich to take a trainee job in 2016. Less than a year later, he was hired as a quarterback coach. He was promoted to acting OC in October 2018 by Steve Wilks, who took over from Arians after his decision to retire.

“BA always wanted me to coach, and it was just something I just wasn’t ready to do. I needed to escape, ”Leftwich said. “I needed to see what the rest of the world was like. You have to understand: you’ve been in team reunions and soccer reunions most of my life, so this was an opportunity for me to just be a civilian.

“Now, during the process, I always talked about football. Football is my life. Anyone who knows me knows what I think about football. Me and BA were talking; I told him what I would see on the TV. … I got to talk to Ben, watch the Steelers play, and talk to Ben about some things. I have never really strayed from football. I just wasn’t in the meetings.

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When the Arians chose to return for the 2019 season as Bucs coach, Leftwich was among his first hires. It’s easy to see why. Leftwich displays an infectious enthusiasm and passion for the game. And his aggressive style suits the Arians ” No Risk, No Cookie ‘philosophy – perhaps best on display on the decisive game of the Bucs’ NFC Championship win against Green Bay, the 39-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to the quick Scotty Miller who provided a 21-10 lead at halftime.

Arians trusts Leftwich to call the Bucs offensive plays, which means the great Tom Brady trusts him as well. There were struggles for all three over the course of the regular season, which were most evident in a loss to the Chiefs in November that wasn’t as close as the final score of 27-24. However, the schedule slackened at that point, and the Bucs gained some momentum heading into the playoffs. They’ve won their last seven games, including some major playoff challenges against the Saints and Packers.

They did so with Leftwich calling games, Bowles arranging the defensive plans, and Armstrong scrambling to make sure his special teams don’t commit the blocking penalties that are the bane of every team’s returning units. Harold Goodwin is the team’s assistant head coach and racing match coordinator. Mike Caldwell coaches inside linebackers. Todd McNair manages the running backs, Kacy Rodgers the defensive line and Kevin Ross the cornerbacks. Roger Kingdom, two-time Olympic hurdler champion, leads the speed and conditioning program.

“Being able to be part of a team with such a diverse coaching staff – all types of races, religions and genders – it’s so cool to be a part of it,” Godwin told SN. “And I also think it made us a lot better people. These things do not seem atypical to us… it is our norm.


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